By: Kathryn Millán, LPC/MHSP
Sexual harassment and assault have come to the forefront of American culture this year, as allegations against politicians, actors, employers and cultural leaders emerge. Simply watching the evening news can feel overwhelming for people who have experienced sexual assault firsthand.
Sexual harassment can be traumatic — but there is hope. A clear understanding of the dynamics behind harassment can help provide insight into its impact on mental health and well-being and bring strength and healing to both individuals and workplaces.
Understanding Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment usually targets attributes related to a person’s sex or gender, which, it’s important to note, are two different things. A person’s sex is usually identified at birth and based on physical anatomy and genetics, while gender is often self-defined and based on how that person identifies with social roles, attributes or culturally normative behaviors. So, for instance, a person may have been born with the physical characteristics of the male sex but identify with a female gender.
Sexual harassment happens to people from all backgrounds and cannot be blamed on clothing, personal presentation or behaviors of the victim. People who have endured this harassment did not want this to happen, nor do they “ask for it” in any way. Sexual harassment may not be obvious or blatant, and it can occur in small ways for extended periods of time.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment in very specific parameters, including:
- Unwelcome requests, comments, offensive remarks or gestures that occur because of the person’s sex or gender
- Offensive comments, gestures or stories that may be indirect, such as making derogatory comments about a person’s body or about women, men or the LGBTQ population in general
- Basing merits, raises, bonuses or opportunities on the victim’s ability to withstand harassment
- The creation of an offensive or hostile work environment through ongoing harassment1
Most studies on the impact of sexual harassment center around women, as women are most often harassed in the workplace. Studies show that as many as one in three women have reported experiences of sexual harassment, and experts agree that most cases go unreported, which would make that number even higher.2 Men are also victims of sexual harassment, and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that 16.6 percent of all sexual harassment claims were filed by men in 2016.3
Contrary to media portrayals, sexual harassment is not always loud, overt or blatantly hostile, so it can be hard to identify clearly. In the workplace, it can happen almost anywhere, and harassers can be supervisors, coworkers and even customers. These situations become particularly tense when the victim’s income, performance or promotions are affected by the harasser.
Healing After Sexual Harassment
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment, you’ve probably felt a great deal of anxiety. You may have even experienced sleepless nights, wondering how to deal with the situation in the safest, most diplomatic way possible.
- First, know that you are not alone and this is not your fault. As awareness grows through movements like #metoo, both women and men have been raising their voices in solidarity to speak out against this epidemic. This strong community of supporters and survivors offers hope that healing is possible. Even large corporations, media conglomerates and small, family-owned businesses acknowledge a need for greater action and awareness.
- There are government and nonprofit organizations that can help. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the US Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau and the National Association of Working Women offer sexual harassment helplines.
- Take this opportunity to seek help for any co-occurring issues Maybe you’ve struggled with anxiety, depression or trauma in the past. Or perhaps you’ve been trying to self-medicate these negative feelings with drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors. You may be able to benefit from specialized recovery support.
You deserve to feel safe. If we can help you on your journey, call our confidential helpline today to speak with an admissions coordinator about the best treatment options for you. Skywood offers recovery programs to treat trauma, addiction, depression and other issues. Our supportive environment and dedicated clinicians can help you move forward in your life with clarity and purpose.
1 “Sexual Harassment.” US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Accessed November 8, 2017.
2 Vagianos, Alanna. “One in 3 Women Has Been Sexually Harassed at Work.” Huffington Post, February 19, 2015.
3 “Charges Alleging Sex-Based Harassment (Charges filed with EEOC) FY 2010 – FY 2016.” US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Accessed November 8, 2017.
4 Thorpe, JR. “Workplace Sexual Harassment Linked to Damaging Mental Health Consequences, Depending On Who’s Doing the Harassing.” Bustle, October 2017.
5 Houle, Jason N., et al. “The Impact of Sexual Harassment on Depressive Symptoms During the Early Occupational Career.” Society and Mental Health, July 1, 2011.
6 McLaughlin, Heather, et al. “The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women.” Gender & Society, May 10, 2017.